Lillian Gallo, a television producer who was perhaps best known for “Hustling,” the critically acclaimed 1975 television movie based on Gail Sheehy’s groundbreaking book on prostitution in America, died Wednesday, June 6 at the Motion Picture and Television Home in Woodland Hills of Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 84.Known for her pioneering work in television, Gallo began her career in the theater, when she was tapped to be film and theater writer/director George Axelrod’s assistant on his 1955 Broadway production of “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter,” starring Jayne Mansfield and Walter Matthau. Working at the time with advertising executive, Ruth West, Gallo was partnered with Axelrod’s wife, Joan, for a game of charades at one of West’s parties. Thrilled with Gallo’s performance, Joan Axelrod insisted she meet her husband, who quickly hired her as his assistant. Before long, Gallo was working on other Broadway shows, including “Auntie Mame” with Rosalind Russell and “Mr. Wonderful” with Sammy Davis Jr.
From Broadway, Gallo was called out to Hollywood to work with “Mr.Wonderful’s” director Jack Donahue on his new television program, “The Frank Sinatra Show.” This was the beginning of Gallo’s working relationship with producer William Self, who became her mentor during her early days in television. Gallo worked closely with Self on numerous productions at 20th Century Fox, including “Peyton Place,” “Batman,” and “Julia.”
After her years at Twentieth Century Fox, Gallo worked with Barry Diller at ABC. Diller made her the Director of Movies of the Weekend, and she supervised 22 movies for the network, including Steven Spielberg’s “Duel.” It was Diller who gave Gallo her first shot at producing with 1972’s “Haunts of the Very Rich” starring Chloris Leachman and Ed Asner.
Following her stint at ABC, Gallo made a production deal at MTM Enterprises where, in addition to developing her own projects, she became an early champion of up-and-coming talents such as Gary David Goldberg. "Lillian Gallo was a fierce supporter and nurturer of young talent,”Goldberg said. “Loyal and loving at all times. She was a rare and wonderful figure in our business, not easily replaced."
Gallo’s productions often featured strong female characters and dealt with hot-button social issues including sexual harassment, adoption and divorce. Considered shocking at the time for its frank depiction of prostitution in New York City, “Hustling” was penned by Fay Kanin and starred Lee Remick and Jill Clayburgh. It is now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Television and Radio and was honored as one of the creative milestones in the history of movies for television. Additionally, Gallo examined workplace sexual harassment in “Fun and Games,” starring Valerie Harper. And a project close to her heart, “The Stranger Who Looks Like Me,” which concerned adoptees searching for their biological roots, was inspired by the questions being asked by her own children, who came into her life via adoption.
In 1978, along with film critic Pauline Kael and actress Shirley MacLaine, Gallo received the Crystal Award by Women In Film, given to honor outstanding women who, through their perseverance and the excellence of their work have helped expand the role of women in the entertainment industry. Reflecting on her role as a trailblazer for women in television, Gallo had this to say in a 1998 interview, “Consciously or unconsciously, women do bring something different to the workplace. Diversity is good for all of us.”
In addition to her more socially relevant work, Gallo also presented the purely entertaining side of television, helming projects like the romantic farce, “Playmates,” which starred Alan Alda and Connie Stevens; NBC’s hit mini-series “Princess Daisy,” based on the Judith Krantz novel and featuring Stacy Keach, Rupert Everett and Lindsey Wagner, and the thriller “The Lookalike” with Melissa Gilbert and Diane Ladd.
Throughout her long career, Gallo had strong ties to other pioneering women in the industry like producer Marcy Carsey whom she met at ABC. “Those of us lucky enough to be Lillian's friends always admired her uncommon intelligence, focus, dignity, and work ethic. But under all that was a huge, selfless heart, and that's what we'll miss above all. She was a class act with a beautiful soul.”
Gallo was born Lillian Drazek on April 12, 1928 to Polish immigrants, Mary Balut and Teofil Drazek, a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. She grew up in Springfield Massachussetts. where as a little girl she sang on the radio with her sister Rosemary as “The Drazek Sisters.” Appearing in party dresses with bows in their hair, Gallo and her sister would perform songs from the Shirley Temple catalog.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1949 with a degree in journalism, Gallo was selected by the Marine Corps as one of 50 college graduates in the country to study under its new program, the Women Officers Training Class at Quantico, VA. The daughter of a World War I veteran, Gallo earned the rank of captain and served in the Pentagon under assistant Secretary of Defense Anna M. Rosenberg. According to her family, Gallo credited much of her resourcefulness and pragmatism to her military experience. “Always have a plan B,” was her rule.
From her Marine Corps service in Washington D.C., Gallo moved to New York City. It was on the production of “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” that she met her future husband, Lew Gallo, then an actor in the show. They were happily married from 1958 until his death in 2000. She is survived by her son, Tom Gallo, daughter, Mary Ann Gallo, a son-in-law, John Bradley, and her two grandchildren, Lewisa and August.
Funeral Services will be held Tuesday June 19 at 10 a.m. at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.